Thanks to researchers in Tel Aviv U and Technion, rats that were paralyzed regained their motor function and were able to walk again. They used stem cells derived from cells in the gums and injected them into the damaged spine of these rats and they regained movement. The research is led by Professor Shulamit Levenberg dean of the Bio-Medical Engineering Department in the Technion and Professor Daniel Open from the Medical Department and School of Brain Science in Tel Aviv University. The results of the research were published in the medical journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Professor Levenberg explains that “even in the past researchers succeeded in repairing the spinal cord in animals with stem cell transplants but this is the first time stem cells brought back sensation in the lower extremities and complex motor function including fast walking in the span of a few short weeks.”
The injury to the spinal cord caused paralysis to the legs of these mice which until now was considered irreversible damage. The game changer was connecting tissue between the 2 broken spinal cord ends which succeeded in creating new nerve cells. Professor Sando Pietro from the Tel Aviv University dental School was responsible for the first stage of the research. “We chose stem cells from the gums because they are the easiest to produce and they have a very flexible ability to differentiate into the necessary cells,” says Professor Levenberg.
When the tissue was ready it was transplanted into the spinal cord and it took only 3 weeks until 42% of the rats were already walking and had the full function of healthy rats including walking, coordination and motor function. They could walk and stand steady among other functions. The control group that was untreated remained paralyzed as before.
Levenberg says, “The interesting part of the process was the walking was normal with no practice or rehabilitation. The fact that stem cells made the new connections made walking possible without any rehabilitative process.”